Monday, December 22, 2008

Top of the Charities

Ever wondered which charity you should give to - and which should be avoided? With hundreds of charities to choose from, and many of them knocking on your door at this time of year wouldn't it be great to have an independent 'watch dog' who reviewed them for you?
Well '' does that for many christian charities around the globe. They've just published their lists of the best and worst and Mercy Ships is up there in the top 30 (of the best)!
Check out their web site to see how it works.

Ah Tenerife

Tenerife at last Yes we arrived safely on Friday 19th. We picked the pilot up at 06:00 and got alongside around 07:00 so it was an early start for us all. Unfortunately our usual berth is busy so we are still sat at a dock used to unload cement and coal from ships, so you can imagine it is not the cleanest of places! I would love to show you some pictures, but after 4 years our trusty old digital camera has given up and gone to camera heaven. I've added it to my list for Santa and posted it up the funnel :-)
The weather (always of interest to us brits) is a cool 25'C with a gusty wind that makes a jacket, scarf and hat essentil - at least until we get acclimatised!
On Saturday we took a long walk and then a bus ride into town and enjoyed being able to walk around without being asked for money, operations or greeted by "Mery Ships, Mercy Ships!"
In the next few days we have over 70 crew leaving the ship either for good or for vacation so it is VERY busy. Hopefully after that we can settle down and try to relax a bit.......

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roughing It

Well it's now Wednesday and we've been at sea for 5 days. Those of us who like being out on the wet stuff are very happy that it's been a bit 'choppy' lately. However there are a good few 'lilly livered landlubbers' who aren't so happy. Let's have a moments sympathetic silence for them. (OK enough - don't want to soften them up anymore:-) )

You know there's something very satisfying about sitting in the International Lounge on deck 6 watching the waves break over the bow and then hitting the windows in front of you (for anyone who knows the ship you'll appreciate how high the waves are getting).

Our ETA in Tenerife is still Friday 19th so only 2 more days of fun before the work begins again.

Last night at 8:30 Iona and I (Rob) went onto deck 8 to look at the stars. WOW - millions of them blinking down on us. We didn't stay there long though as the wind was whistling around us and the deck pitching enough to make walking a new art form. It's always humbled me to see how BIG the universe is.

Low Flying Landrovers

Eat your heart out Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Mercy Ships Landrovers rule the skies in the 21st century! How do we transport all our 4x4 vehicles from one port to the next? With a little help from our crane and a lot of space borrowed from the crew's 'relaxation' area on deck 8 that's how.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

Bye Bye Liberia. At 14:25 on the 12th December the m/v Africa Mercy pulled away from the LNP Fishing Pier in Freeport, Monrovia and headed for the open sea. So many memories, so many prayers, so many tears, and of course goodbyes! Our final goodbye for the orphange children was to have them visit the ship. It was incredible to see even the older children struggle to be confident on the stairs - they aren't used to them! We gave them a tour of the ship and then asked which was their favourite part - the older ones, who are responsible for chores, said the washing machines and or the toilets.....basic things we take for granted would revolutionise their living conditions. We also said goodbye to our friend Pastor Charles and his wife Courage. It was particularly sad as just the week before Charles's eldest daughter died suddenly - no on knows why. there is no way of knowing - this is daily life in Liberia.

Final Liberia Pics

How often do you get the chance to take your photo with a sunken ship in the background? In Freeport, Monrovia you get th echance every day and also have a choice of wrecks! This afternoon was our last chance as we prepared to sail.....

Beach Baptism

Last week one of our German families onboard celebrated the baptism of their oldest daughter. She decided to get Baptised by a local Liberian Pastor at ELWA beach and a number of us were able to be there to share the experience with them.

Fancy dress night

To lighten the load on the crew as we faced the task of packing up in Liberia we had a fancy dress evening. Rob was Dr House, Rachel was Black Bess the Pirate. Iona was the rich lady Rachel was going to steal from, Nathaniel was another Pirate, and Anne was the woman from the shower scene in Psycho! (Not shown - Phew) The captain and his family won - Dressed as the Flinstone Family.

Update on Pastor Charles

Apologies for not blogging for a few days - it's been crazy busy getting ready for the sail. I visited Pastor Charles on Monday to see how he was doing. The daughter that died was 24 with two young children. Apparently she had been unwell and gone to a local 'clinic' where Charles had gone to check on her and paid the medical bill. After he'd gone back home she had apparently become worse, but by the time she had been sent to the 'hospital' she was dead. The funeral may be tomorrow (Saturday) if arrangements can be finalised. Please continue to pray for them.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

call to prayer

Some of you may remember us telling you about Daniel Coleman the immigration officer who died last year. He had become a friend and his death was a shock for us all. Through that sad event we got to know his younger brother Charles, who is a local Pastor and has taken over responsibility for Daniels children as well as looking after his own 5 daughters. 2 weeks ago Charles called to say that his youngest daughter (who is 4) had maleria, but was thank fully getting treatment.
Yesterday morning Charles called us again to say that his oldest daughter (16yrs?) had just died in an accident. We don't know the details yet but obviously they are very upset. He hasn't asked us for anything but prayer, even though we know they are desperately poor. Infact the whole time we have known him he has never asked for money - the only Liberian we know who hasn't! Maybe that is why we feel we have a real friendship and have felt free to bless them with money from time to time.
Please would you take a moment to pray for Charles, his wife Courage and their family as they walk through this. I'll post more information as I know it and as it is appropriate to do so.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Final Running Club

Every week the dock vibrates under the feet of 4o young people (and some of us not so young) who are part of the Africa Mercy running club. The children run up and down the dock and get a special card stamped to mark each lap. 3 laps equals one mile and they are all aiming to do the 26 miles required in a marathon over the length of our field service. Last night was the last chanvce to gain miles. Rachel and Iona already had done more than 26 miles so their medals were 'in the bag'. Nathaniel needed three more miles. He'd never done more than 2.6 miles in one go. He was nervous. Mum was nervous. Dad (who runs with him) was feeling guilty for not getting him to run a bit further in previous weeks. Dad was also nervous. 6pm starting time came around and the clouds had gathered. Not itty bitty little grey ones like in England, but thick, black menacing clouds that seem to suffocate the sky and soak up the sunlight. Would we run? Would Natty miss his medal by only three miles? "WE WANT RUNNING CLUB, WE WANT RUNNING CLUB" The children started to shout as the rain started to fall. What could the teachers do? We lined up, got ready, braced ourselves for the starting whistle, and the heavens opened! Torrential, freezing, thumbnail sized shards of rain lashed down on us and the whistle blew.

40 minutes, thousands of gallons of rain, and hundreds of smiles later it was all over. The rain stopped, the sun set and we sat on the dock to eat our celebration chocolate cake. Wet? I've been drier in a swimming pool! And what of Nathaniels performance? Oh .....he did 4 miles :-)


Tomorrow our ship will be rather dark. Infact it will be VERY dark as there will be no electricity onboard due to essential maintenance. Whilst the engineers work with only emergency lighting, no running water, A/C, toilets, or computer access most of the crew will be either out on the dock enjoying the fresh air and sunlight or at the beach making sand castles and drinking Sprite. For reasons of confidentiality I cannot say what our family will be doing. Now where did I put my spade?

Closing Down

Today was a day of closure. The last day that our wards would be open in Liberia and the last day for our 120+ Liberian day workers. Whilst on a field service Mercy Ships employs local people to help with almost every aspect of the ministry from cooking and cleaning to working with our deck department, engineering, hospital and field operations. To honour them we had an African meal at lunchtime and then a short program in our meeting room where we had a time of (lively) african worship and then Ken Berry (Managing Director) and Tim Tretheway (Captain) thanked them all for their work. The ship will seem very empty next week without them around, but as we prepare to sail there will be many more goodbyes to be said.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Iona's Big Day

How many of you have ever met a vice-President? Well Iona did yesterday when she was chosen to give a bouquet of flowers to the vice presidents wife! The Vice -President, along with the minister of health, USA Ambassador and numerous other high ranking officials arranged for a meal to be cooked for the crew of the AFM yesterday as their way of saying 'Thank You' for all the work we've done here in Liberia. So all 330 crew plus 50 guests sat in the dining room in our best bib and tucker (clothing) and enjoyed a meal courtesy of the Government. This was followed by a presentation of the work we've done and then by speeches from the Vice -President and others thanking us (AND YOU) for what has been achieved.

Looking back at our blog I see I forgot to mention that the President was onboard last Wednesday (26th Nov) for another event which was for us to say thank you to her and 100+ others for their assistance and partnership. Sorryo.

Teddy Time

Whilst in the UK earlier this year a friend passed onto us three bags of knitted teddy bears. We had hoped to donate them to the orphanage that we attend (CAOAC) but there weren't enough for one for each child. So we passed them onto Ellen (who works in reception) and she took them to the orphanage that she has been involved with - much to the delight of the children and staff. OK the children on the photo don't look delighted - but they were waiting for the teddies to be handed out. The suspense must have been almost too much for them..................

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jail Break

On Monday 202 Prisoners broke out of Monrovia central Prison. So far only 36 have been re-caught. Unfortunately for the 600+ prisoners still locked up, those escaping stole all the food on their way out so they had nothing at all to eat yesterday. Mercy ships responded by taking round 5 sacks of rice (amidst the cheers of the inmates) to help until they get re-supplied.

Meanwhile we are being extra vigilant whilst ashore, just incase.

Little Eddie

Yesterday when I was talking to an immigration officer at the gangway, 5 month old Eddie was brought up for some freash air. He was severely burnt when his mosquito net caught fire and has been having 'plastic surgery onboard to release and repair his eyelids (to protect his eyes) and to have skin grafts on the back of his head. Needless to say he will need many more operations in the future, so as we leave Liberia please remember to pray for him and the thousands of others who need our help.

Scool Pics

School photo time again - what more do I need to say? Here they are. Nathaniel looking cool!
Nathaniel with classmates

Miss Iona
Iona's Class
and of course Miss Rachel-Elise

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sleep Over and Out

On Friday Iona went to stay at a friends house ashore for her first sleep over off the ship. She stayed with the Chapman family who left the ship last year with their two daughters and adopted Liberian son to set up a dental clinic here in Liberia. As you can see she had a lot of fun, and no matter what country you are in or what country you come from, nothing is quite as much fun as an empty box! It was the Chapmans oldest daughter Taylor (not pictured) who was the inspiration behind Iona's new hairstyle!

A Clean Sweep

As our patients recover from surgery and leave the ship, our nurses are able to start cleaning up and closing down the wards. Minor surgeries will continue until the end of this week and then everything will need to be cleaned, inventoried and stowed ready for us to sail. What do the nurses do then? They are being absorbed into other departments to help spread the load during our time in Tenerife. We may not be doing operations in the Canary Islands but most other departments need to keep working throughout the year.

Final Orphanage Visit

As we get closer to leaving Liberia we enter the 'Lastimever' zone. You know how it used to be in school holidays?Last Time I'll ever do this before, last time I'll ever do that before......

Well Saturday was the 'last time we'll ever' visit the Center for the Aged Orphaned and abandoned children Liberia Corp. as a family. There were tears and laughter, prayers and many many thank you's - from us and them. We prayed with every child in the center, then prayed over their leaders, and then they all prayed for us.

During the previous weeks visit each child had decorated and written their name on a paper bag. These were then collected back in and through the week Brenda (helped by Anne and others) filled the bags with sweets and little gifts. So on Saturday the bags were handed back out and all 64 children, regardless of age got a bag full of goodies. I don't hink I've ever seen so many big smiles!

It isn't quite farewell yet though as we are bringing around 30 of the younger children to the ship next Saturday for a farewell party here. The older children came last year so this time the under 11's can come. I'll stick some photos on of that next week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kama Chameleon

One of our Crew (Jeff) rescued a Chameleon from the market last week and brought it to the dock to show the children. It was a very friendly little thing and despite being stroked, prodded and blinded by countless flash bulbs it sat quite happily on Jeff's arm. Where is it now? Well Jeff heads up the water, sanitation and building teams, so he took it 'to work' with him in the bush and released it back to its natural habitat.

Everyone say "Awwwww!"

A new start for 5000 more Liberians

More than 5,000 former combatants from Liberia's civil war will participate in the next round of the United Nations-led reintegration and rehabilitation programme for ex-fighters so they can successfully rejoin their former communities, a UN official says
Mr. Tamagnini said the programmes - which have begun in 28 locations across the West African country - are being expanded so that they directly benefit not just the ex-combatants, but the communities that host them as well.
Participants in the programmes work on roadside brushing projects, cleaning drainages, agricultural projects and other job schemes to help them back on their feet.
In a survey in Lofa county, which borders Guinea, "97 per cent of the ex-combatants said they were better off now than when they were fighting. Two thirds said they will not fight again. One third said 'yes, they will fight again.' The reason was unemployment and [the] economy."

Please keep praying for initiatives like this that are offering an alternative to fighting for the thousands of people who have known nothing else in their lives.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Walk on the Wild Side

This weekend Anne and I had a stroll into town. Actually to be more accurate she walked 4 miles to Mamba Point on Saturday with some other mums, and I went on Sunday with the guys. It was supposed to be a joint venture but there were no baby-sitters available!

When you are used to driving around town it is easy to isolate yourself from the poverty. However when you walk 8 miles through some of the poorest parts of town, it really brings home just how much of a struggle it must be for the million or so people living in Monrovia.

Reminders of the war are still all around with burnt out buildings and street lights bearing the scars of bullet holes, yet the smiles on peoples faces are genuine and their greetings truly heartfelt. Could I stay so positive in their position? I hope I never have to find out.........

What a Result

On the same day that I posted news about Liberias debt, it was announced that Norway will cancel 35 million U.S. dollars of Liberia’s debt to Norway, which constitutes 90 percent of Liberia’s debt to the country.
Liberia’s remaining debt to Norway will be canceled when the country reaches the completion point defined under the Indebted Poor, it added.
“I am glad we have agreed to cancel most of Liberia’s debt to Norway. It is important to support the positive developments that have taken place since the election of President Johnson-Sirleaf four years ago,” Erik Solheim, Minister of the Environment and International Development, said in the statement.

Nice to see some GOOD news for a change :-)

Friday, November 14, 2008

In the Red

This week President President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says significant progress has been made to reduce Liberia’s external debts of $3.7 Billion USD.
The President told a cross section of Lofa citizens during a meeting to discuss the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy(PRS), that the debts were accumulated dating as far back to the 1980s but her government is making tremendous effort to have the debts waived.
African Debt cancellation may be out of the International headlines at the moment, but in a country as poor and badly damaged as Liberia it is hard to see how it can ever get fully back on its feet with a debt like that around its neck.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ghanaian sailors sentenced

The nine Ghanaian sailors arrested onboard the vessel Blue Atlantic with $500 million (2.4 tonnes)worth of cocaine onboard have been sentenced to 10 years each in prison here in Liberia. The judge said that they had acted in violation of the Public Health Law of Liberia. The ship meanwhile continues to sit opposite us on the dock. Last week our electricians ran a cable from the Africa Mercy to the Blue Atlantic so that the security guards who are still onboard guarding her have some electricity. I've been inside Monrovia central prison, and another in Kakata. 10 years is basically a life sentence.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weekly Challenges

Another week in Liberia nearly over with its blessings and burdens. So what has gone on this week?
Well a major water shortage meant that the laundry was closed for nearly 4 days onboard - 350 people, tin box, hot humid weather and no laundry - atmospheric to say the least! For some reason the water just stopped flowing to the ship so I had tankers organised ready to deliver to us incase things didn't improve. Thankfully the water plant managed to 'find' the elusive valve that had been closed and we are slowly topping our tanks back up again. However we are still limited to 1 load of washing per person per week and of course continue with the 2 minute showers.
Our shipping agent has had their challenges as well this week as the Ministry of Justice marched in on Wednesday, told them all to leave their office and then locked it up so they couldn't get back in! It seems they are stuck in the middle of a dispute between one of their customers and a shipping line, and as that particular shipping line has no office here in Liberia the agent is being held accountable instead. So no containers for us again this week.

The satellite connection has been poor for some reason so e-mails, internet and phones have all been sporadic. Bad news for productivity but at least we've had 2 rather quiet days in the Pursers office which makes a nice change.

Iona had her hair cut into a very cute 'bob' style on Monday and looks totally different. She used to have it like that when she was two so it's a bit of a flash from the past.

Although we only have about 6 weeks left in Liberia the medical teams are still working flat out to treat as many people as possible. One of our eye surgens did 15 cataract surgeries yesterday morning alone! I know the medical team would appreciate your prayers as a lot of patients coming to the ship at the moment have various sicknesses in addition to their surgical needs. This not only lengthens and complicates their stay onboard but of course the nurses are starting to catch the illnesses as well which places a heavier load on those left.

So all in all another busy week. On Saturday we go to the orphanage again and on Sunday I'm going to a local church led by Pastor Charles Coleman, the brother of the Immigration Officer who died last year. I try to go once every 2-3 months to show support and because he is such a great guy! Nathaniel may come with me, but the heat and length of service always prove difficult for the children. I'll try to get some pics of his church to post next week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Listen in

Saturday was Anne's turn to lead the program at the 'Centre for Aged, Orphaned and Abandoned Children Liberia Corp.' She used all her parental skills to keep them in check - not least of which is SHOUTING to be heard! In seriousness though it was a great opportunity to teach the children a bit more about being part of the body of Christ and instill in them a sense of self-worth.

Cows and other hazzards

Potholes, torrential rain, vehicles that shouldn't be on the road driven by drivers that shouldn't be behind the wheel, the list of things that makes driving in Liberia interesting goes on and on. Occasionally though it isn't the sheer volume of traffic (or breakdowns) that holds you up...

Mind the Puddle

Rainy season may be over in Liberia (Hurray) but that doesn't mean no more rain. We are now into the wet part of the dry season! This picture was taken on Saturday as Anne and the girls went to the orphanage - praise God for Landrovers :-) Nathaniel and Rob remained onboard as Nathaniels had a birthday party to attend.....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fuel for thought

What uses 9000 litres of diesel and 35,000 litres of water a day? A mercy ship working 24/7 in Liberia! To keep the generators running to provide lighting, electricity and air conditioning for such a large ship is not cheap, but is essential to enable us to carry out our work. Our tanks can hold enough fuel for about 4 months use, but then we need to top them up from a fuel barge. This week was 'top up' week and the fuel sailed to us onboard the m/v Mars. Please remember to pray for all our technical crew who keep the lights on, the water running and the ship 'alive' so that the blind can see, the lame walk and the deaf hear about the God that we serve.

Night at the movies

Last weekend some of the creative talents of our crew were displayed as we had the first Africa Mercy Film Festival. Crew members made short movies (comedy, animated or documentary) which were then shown to the crew. A panel of 'illustrious judges' (inc Rob) then chose one from each category to win a trophy. It was a great evening of entertainment and fun, with the crew dressing in their best clothes and making a real event out of it. A you can see Rachel-Elise (in the centre wearing black)scrubbed up pretty well, and although her class' entry didn't win a prize, it did give them a taste of the work required to plan, shoot and edit a film.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Special Anniversary

What could I do on a ship? One of the most common questions people ask us. You don't have to be a doctor, nurse or Surgeon to fill an important role onboard. Eddie Wong is a pastry chef, and a good one as well! He spends his time in our galley baking bread and other yummy stuff for the crew and last week he baked his 10,000th loaf of bread onboard. Yes that's 10,000! He makes about 70 loaves per day to keep us all well fed which means starting before 5am each day. So what could you do onboard a ship? Why not check out the vacancies on the mercy ships website you may be surprised....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crew Muster

Is it a Birthday Party? Is it a picnic?'s a Crew Muster! Part of living onboard a ship is preparing for the worst, and nothing onboard a ship is worse than fire. So our fire teams practise different scenarios, and at regular intervals we evacuate all crew from the ship to practise our mustering procedures. Yesterday was one of those days and so whilst the fire teams sweated in their fire proof suits, and Rob helped the reception team in accounting for all 400 crew / day workers, Anne and the children sat on the dock and relaxed :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hats off to the Immigration Service

Whilst in the UK we were given a few baseball caps to hand out in Liberia. We gave one to Captain Ansu Sherman of the Liberian Immigration Service. Captain Ansu processes all the passports for crew joining and leaving the Africa Mercy, which is quite a task! His salary is around $70 US dollars A MONTH, with which he has to feed, cloth and send to school two children as well as look after his wife and himself. A bag of rice which will last them 3 weeks (using 3 cupfulls a day) now costs about $40 so I don't know how they manage. There are many many people in Liberia who earn less and for them life is a continual struggle to survive from one day to the next. How blessed we are to always have food at hand.

Birthday Boy

A very special birthday took place yesterday with Nathaniel turning 6! Unfortunately he still had to go to school, but he managed to squeeze in a party with friends (and cake) and then later on a trip out to get ice-cream. All in all a very exciting and fun filled day for our little super-hero!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Welcome Home

After a quiet but busy, relaxing though sometimes stressful, tiringly refreshing time back in the UK we are settling back into life onboard the m/v Africa Mercy in Liberia. It's amazing how easily we slotted back into life onboard compared to the struggle we had settling in the UK. I guess this is partly due to the ship being God's home for us right now and partly due to the familiarity of everything here.

So why are we starting a Blog? After talking to many of you back home we wanted to try to do better at keeping in touch and figured a Blog might help. Please give us feedback as you visit so we can make it as interesting and relevant as possible:-)

As you can see from the picture we have been back to the orphanage to see our friends there. This was the only picture with most of us in it, Iona was just out of shot, but she was there. Anne was leading us all in an action song which everyone enjoyed!